If you are an African millennial born in Africa or the Diaspora, there’s a 70% chance you must have gone through a dramatic childhood. And that is not because, as some parenting books would say, you were exhibiting ‘toddler behavior’, but because of your parents, most especially, your mum. Besides personal experiences with one’s African mum, there seemed to be one ultimate truth: every mum had a similar line for executing discipline (in any situation) and upbringing generally. In recent times, millennials have employed these in making jokes, skits, and every other popular social media statement available. Without doubt, our mothers used the same pattern in raising us up. Just last night, a colleague and friend of mine said (in not exactly these words), ‘what if millennial mothers actually had a conference on child upbringing?’ And bing, this article was born. I’ll not even lie, prior to the discussion with this said friend of mine (whom I’m going to be referring to as X), I’d never really given this issue much thought. But think about it, most mums had the ‘Oya put it on my head’ line ready for any child asking what they deemed a ‘stupid question’. Or the famous Anointing Oil Therapy that cured all ailments. The Conference of 1989 Think about this. Picture this; a gloomy day in early ’89. It’d probably have been January or February, after the long enjoyable holiday and festive period of Christmas and the New Year. The large halls of the Mother’s Association of Nigeria (MAN) headquarters in every district is filled to the brim with mothers. Young women who have been recently wed or even just engaged. The air would have been really ashy – choking with the uncertainty of the next generation (their kids). The MAN National leader takes her place on the pavilion and her voice reverberates through the speakers. With her lecture began the new version of child upbringing for the millennial generation. And of course, pamphlets, magazines and study guides would have been distributed to every single mother present to better her Child Upbringing 101, study groups formed even. These are probably some of the new skill sets, retorts, sharp moves and gestures learnt by our mothers in that famous conference of ’89.
1. The ‘Go and Put on your shoe’ move.
If you have never been tricked by your mum with this line, then it’s safe to say your childhood was not ripped of a little trust. It would always be when you wanted to go out with your mum and your determination would drive her to calmly request or plead even that you change your clothes or footwear to something more eye-worthy. She’d probably have said this with the calmest look on her face and maybe even smile at you encouragingly. Silly child that you are, you’d run inside to put on the appropriate or required items, happy, joyful that you’d be walking around with your mum and even have a chance for a treat. With this joy, you’d run outside only to slowly discover your mum has gone out without you. It is then you brain would put things together and click, ‘oh mummy tricked me!’ Of course you’d cry and bad news, you’ll never disbelieve your mother for years to come.
2. The famous ‘Pass/Give me the remote’
It usually doesn’t matter if you’re in Hong Kong studying when your African mum in a Nigerian town somewhere needs the TV remote urgently to switch to Channel 35 where Rashni might likely die on ZeeWorld. Your African mother will call you to fly down to Nigeria and get her that TV remote (best belie’ that). And this insane request was never limited to just TV remotes but a bunch of other things as well. It could be her eyeglass case, the famous multi-purpose Anointing Oil, her slippers, anything imaginable. And shocker- this requested item would most likely be right there in front of her the entire time.
3. ‘Put it on my Head’
If your mother ever said this to you, chances were that you had brought something (like her food) and ‘stupidly’ asked, ‘mummy where should I put this?’ At the utter of that question, she’d probably have given you the long hard sarcastic glare and respond without blinking, ‘Put it on my head’. That retort didn’t require any further questioning, it was your opportunity to prove your creative thinking or acquire what is called an ‘Abara’ (a hit at the back of the head), or in your mum’s case wherever she preferred.
4. The Default Setting/Reset move
It’s only normal for kids to misbehave, throw tantrums, be stubborn, the very definition of little devils. Dr. Dinah Jayson says in her book, Understanding Children’s Behaviour, that toddlers are naturally prone to being impulsive and messy, egocentric, show little respect, be stubborn, ask endless questions and so on. She advises that the best way to deal with toddlers therefore, is to understand them, play with them, get them toys and etc. Sincerely, this would have been an excellent way to raise the average African millennial except for a little something called mothers. An African mum does not have the patience, I repeat, an African mum has no patience for playing games with annoying little devils in the shape of toddlers. At that conference of ’89, they must have discussed possible ways of dealing with children’s insolence and picked corrective measures. It could be a slap behind the back (Agbara), a knock on the head (Shiko), a canning on the backside, a slap or even punishments like ‘Picking Pins’, kneeling and so on. And to be frank, these punishments did bring order and restored the said kid’s settings to default mode, pending of course, when it was corrupted again with childish indulgences of stubbornness and adventure and needed resetting once more.
5. The Repetitive Slurs of Past Crimes and Sins.
This was perhaps the most painful comportment of an African mother or parents’ response to their child’s misbehavior. It is usually triggered by an eff up by the child and to better make a point to the child, the African mum and member of the MAN, would discuss, to the hearing of sneering or compassionate siblings, the history of your wrongdoings from a decade ago. The goal of this approach, was perhaps to remind the child the parent never forgets anything from the past and this, more than the present crime itself, was frightful.
6. ‘Sorry for Yourself’
This was usually the final response to an after disciplinary action. The child, feeling all shades of guilt would have apologized, sincerely or not, to the mother, who’d respond with a stern ‘Sorry for Yourself’. Thus, building a heightened sense of sarcasm in the child’s mind. Prepping them for the future in Nigeria, ‘Giant of Africa’.
7. Sex Education
For those lucky to have received any form of ‘Sex education’ talk with their African mothers, you’d agree with me how not only uncomfortable, but hilarious it all seems now (if you’re grown up). Some mothers are famous to have told their daughters that hugging a male would get them pregnant. Others would not waste time to declare a disowning should the said child get pregnant.
8. The famous ‘Does XYZ have two heads?’ question
Usually this question followed a ‘failure’ of some sort on the child’s part. It didn’t matter sometimes if you came third in class or lost to your opponent (they had to be) by a mark, your African mother, in part of her speech about victory would always chip in, ‘So does Nkechi have two heads to have come first in your class?’ And usually, your best response was to be mute as always, and see how this reproach would play out (hopefully, unaccompanied by a Shiko).
9. Other instructions I cannot quite remember now.
Honestly, at this point, any other African Millennial mother move eludes me. And maybe it’s for a good reason too. If I had to continue writing, I might as well convert this article to my dissertation abi? Irrespective of the dramatic tactics African mothers employed in raising Millennials, there’s no doubt most of us turned out nicely after all. And maybe, just maybe, we’d do better than the preceding generation running the country in fear of demanding, money-swallowing snakes and Akara-eating Eagles.
“Grace Okogwu feels like screaming at the top of her voice on a rooftop but writes instead. She has been in a very complicated relationship with Lagos but may not commit because she doesn’t get the traffic and entire buzz.”